RV Life

Living through the 2021 Texas Freeze in an RV

I went to Texas the winter of ’21 to escape the snow, but instead I was caught in a winter storm in a travel trailer without electricity for 2 days.

As part of my first full timing trip, I decided to drive down to Texas. When people asked, “Why Texas?” I’d say it was because it was warmer, there were no mountains between me and Texas, and I’ve never been there. Since I’m from the Midwest, we were in below freezing temperatures for the long term. I didn’t want to try living in an RV in freezing temperatures, especially since I don’t have a 4 seasons unit.  As it turns out, Texas had another idea. Only 2 of my 3 reasons ended up being accurate. This is the story about what it was like to live through freak winter storm Uri, and what I learned.

I am not the best at paying attention to the weather. I’ve known for a while, and I’ve tried to get better. The way this started for me was finding out Texas was calling for snow. I befriended the lady who owns a food truck that comes to our campground on Tuesdays. She told me she had only had 1 customer the whole time she’d been here. That’s how I found out the temperature was around freezing. I had been working inside all day and just didn’t realize how cold it was. She then said she wasn’t coming the next week because they were calling for snow. I came to Texas to get away from snow! Luckily, I had already read up on all the ways to protect the RV from the freezing weather.

Lesson: Always check the forecast so you aren’t caught off guard.

Expecting to hit some cold weather in the Midwest, I bought supplies to try to protect my trailer back in September. I purchased 60 ft. heat tape – which is just a weird name for an electric cord you wrap around pipes and hoses to keep them from freezing, silver insulation, and a grommet kit to make my own RV skirt. Skirting an RV allows you to keep some heat under the RV and keep the wind from blowing under the rig. You can purchase RV skirting. You can even have it custom fitted and installed, but it’s expensive. I thought the silver insulation would be much more cost effective and easier to install than lots of other DIY solutions. I wanted to fit it before the cold weather came around, but my RV was in the shop for 3 months. When I got it back, it was below freezing and I didn’t want to try to do it in the cold. Since I was still winterized, it wasn’t essential at that time to have it skirted. When I got to Texas, I was planning to use the warmer weather to start working on the skirt. I had the materials, but they would need to be put together and attached to create the skirt. I’ll make another post about how I made my skirt. When I arrived, however, the staff I was talking to said I wouldn’t need a skirt around here. I noticed no one else in my park was skirted so I thought maybe I shouldn’t. I wish I had. When the cold weather rolled around, I wasn’t ready to skirt. I had to quickly punch all the grommets into the material (my hands were getting so tired), figure out how to attach the skirt, and hang it in the cold like I had intended to avoid.

Lesson: Never let anyone talk you out of your plans.

I used some heavy duty magnets that I already had on hand to attach the skirt to the metal frame under the trailer. They worked ok, but I definitely had to stay on top of any that came unattached. It is so windy here. I hadn’t got a chance to weigh the skirt down. I would have used some stakes, but I was parked on concrete so that wasn’t an option. I also needed to add a heat source for the skirt to keep inside. I got a work light from Walmart that puts off some heat and is made for outdoor use. I also put the light on a couple leveler blocks to keep it away from any potential water that might find its way under the trailer.

Day 1 of Winter Storm Uri – Valentines Day

First thing I did when the weather changed was open all of my cabinets. There’s even these openings you have to unscrew to get to the plumbing and other functional parts of the RV. These areas aren’t well insulated so removing the barrier between them and the warmth of the RV is just one more way to try to protect them. Once the furnace was running, I put a space heater in the bathroom to help focus on the plumbing there. Last thing to do when the weather turns, let your faucet drip or run slightly. The moving water will help slow down the pipes freezing.

Lesson: Education & preparation ahead of time is invaluable.

I let the pipes drip, but they were driving me crazy. I had been tracking down some loose pipe connections the weeks before so the sound of dripping water was the last thing I wanted to hear. I had turned it down as low as I could without turning it off. However, the temperature was so low it wasn’t enough. That evening I realized my water had frozen. First thing I did when the water froze was take some of my empty pitchers outside and scooped up snow. Then I set them in the shower so they could melt. I wouldn’t recommend drinking this, but I could use it for flushing the toilet and washing my hands. I was so stressed it was somewhere under the rig where there could be damage. Lucky for me, it was just the water filter that was frozen. I brought it inside to work on thawing it. I used hot water from my electric kettle to run through the filter to melt the ice inside. I kept a cup under the filter to catch water as it came out and poured it back through. That was the only way there would be enough to keep going. All the water I had were the two ice pitchers, and some water that was still in my Brita. I managed to get the filter thawed, then I had to get the small bit of ice out of the end of my hose. I chipped away at it with my Leatherman. I managed to get enough of a hole that water could come through. When I hooked everything back up, water sprayed everywhere. Not ideal for freezing weather. No matter how much I tightened, it still sprayed. About that time one of my neighbors stopped by to check on me. I didn’t think I needed help, but he gave me a rubber seal to help with the leaking. When that didn’t work, we realized the hose on the filter had busted a ring. Without the filter, it worked fine. For now, I decided to forgo the filter and just attached the hose directly to the RV.

Lesson: Accept help, even if you don’t think you need it.

Day 2 of Winter Storm Uri

I woke up around 2:30 a.m. because the power went off. I could hear it turn off because the heater turned off. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think the campground’s streetlights suddenly going dark also contributed to waking me up. The spot I was in had a light directly outside the front door and windows so it lit up the camper a little bit. At first, I thought I blew a fuse. My fuses inside weren’t tripped so I went outside to check the electric pole for my spot. That wasn’t tripped either so I realized that the campground was dark, and it wasn’t just my lights off. I’m really glad I had my winter coat with me or I would have been in big trouble. I always carry some winter gear in my car just in case. I crawl back in bed because there’s nothing I can do. The lights come on, and then go back off a few minutes later. By this point, I’m getting really cold. My space heaters aren’t working since the power is off, and it seems that my furnace isn’t working either. Turns out, I had run out of propane. I finished my first tank a few days earlier and switched to the second. The first one lasted since September, so I never thought the second would run out in just a couple days. It couldn’t have run out at a worst time either. I keep my coat on, and pile as many blankets on as I could on myself in bed. I check our campground Facebook page to see if anyone has posted what’s going on. This leads to messaging another camper who was also up. Neither of us could go back to sleep so we end up messaging most of the night. He offered to let me tag along with him and his wife in the morning to get propane. I was quite thankful since I hadn’t changed my propane since buying the unit. I’m really wary of gas so I wanted to be sure I was doing it correctly. We went first thing in the morning, and we still had to try several locations before we found someone who had propane. We stopped at a couple hardware stores as well to pick up supplies. This is how I first met Jeff & Amanda from We Live Free RV. They are really great people, and have lots of cool videos on their YouTube. Be sure to check them out and subscribe!

Lesson: Always help out fellow campers when you can. & Never be afraid to ask for the help you need.

Day 3 of Winter Storm Uri

The next challenge was regarding my battery. While the propane runs the heater, the blower is run by the battery. We had been without power for over an entire day, and my battery was getting really low. I saw a lot of my neighbors using their cars to charge their trailers, but I didn’t really like that. I did give it a go a couple times, but I didn’t want to get stuck without gas. I chilled in the car for about an hour and it barely helped that battery at all. I then decided to go out and pick up a solar panel from Harbor Freight. When I arrived, they had just lost power and closed. No where else around me had solar panels. I tried to get food too, but everything was closed. I’m so thankful the electricity came on while I was out. It was off and on a couple times that evening, but at least that meant my battery was getting re-juiced right when it needed it. It’s bad to let your battery get too low so it was a relief that it wasn’t getting ruined. Not to mention, I got my heaters and appliances back. Lots of people around me had generators so they didn’t have to deal with the loss of power in the same way I did, but they were constantly running out for more gas. I decided a while back I don’t want a generator, I don’t have room anyway, and I would go with solar. I just hadn’t decided which panels to buy, and wasn’t in a rush.

Lesson: Be prepared to boondock even at a full hookup site.

Once I had my propane situation handled, I needed to deal with my water. With how crazy low the temperature was, and my heat tape not working because the electricity was off, my water froze again. I picked up a different hose while we were out. Jeff recommended a Zero-G hose instead of the normal RV hoses. I do really like the new hose. It’s much more pliable which made wrapping the heat tape around it easier. The hose was frozen in the same place as last time, where it connect to the trailer. That section was the section I couldn’t get the heat tape or the insulation around to protect it. The heat tape wasn’t working with the electricity out, but the insulation would help too. So there’s ice going into the water line at the connection point, and into the hose at the same connection point. Our electricity was still off and not coming back on so I couldn’t use hot water or any electric source of heat to thaw the hose. This is where I decided I was a mad genius. I keep some vodka water around as a cleaning product in a spray bottle. From what I understand, vodka has a lower freezing temperature than water. So I took it outside, set it to the direct spray, and sprayed it into the water inlet. It worked!! The ice melted right where the vodka-water hit. I was able to clear the whole inlet from ice. I did the same thing to the hose, but it had a longer chunk of ice so it took longer. I managed to get a tunnel through the center of the ice for water to flow through. I then took it inside to melt the rest of the way, and switch the heat tape to the new hose. I wanted to make sure it was done right this time. I lined the tape along the whole hose taping it with electrical tape every so often. Then I went back up the hose wrapping it around the hose. Then I took my pipe insulation and wrapped it as far as I could on each end of the hose being sure to cover the connection points. I didn’t have enough to do the whole hose because the stores ran out, but I could leave the center parts of the hose under the skirt. I had enough to cover each exposed end of the hose. The water took a little while to get through the pipes. There may have been some additional freezing that needed to be melted. Once the water came back to the faucets, I turned them both on high.

Day 4 of Winter Storm Uri

Everyone was saying this day was supposed to be the worst of it weather-wise. However, the temperature was supposed to be warmer than the previous days, but still below freezing. Of course, with my background with winter, I thought a bad snowstorm would be like 6-9”. However, when I looked at the forecast, it was calling for 1-2”. Let’s just say that made me chuckle. Frankly, in the morning I could hardly tell a difference from the day before. I was able to get the water on in the evening before, but the toilet water hadn’t returned for flushing yet. This morning, I found water shooting out the back of the toilet! It seemed to be coming from the hinge or a water connection. When I flushed the toilet, it stopped coming out the back. I also hand tightened a connection on the back for good measure. What seemed to happen in my opinion, was that there was pent up pressure, and when I flushed, it released the pressure. Then I just had to mop up the water from the floor and make sure there was no residual moisture. Thank goodness that it was the clean, incoming water and not the *ahem* outgoing water. As I flushed to release pressure, I noticed the black tank was so full there was no where for new materials to go. This didn’t really make sense to me because I had just dumped recently and this was too fast for it to have filled, I thought. I dumped and there seemed to be no problem, then a couple hours later the black tank was full again! Turns out, I was misinformed about my plumbing system. My understanding was that the toilet goes to the black tank, and both sinks and the shower go to the grey tank. What I discovered was that in many rigs with 2 sinks, the bathroom sink will also go to the black tank. I had been letting both my sinks run very strong to avoid any more freezes. I thought this was safe because I left the grey tank open to drain directly and not retain any water. Once I turned off the bathroom sink, the black tank stopped filling at this crazy fast rate. I would have maybe never figured out this misunderstanding on my part without this strange incident.

Lesson: Keep an eye on your plumbing for leaks and anomalies, but don’t drive yourself crazy like me.

Day 5 of Winter Storm Uri

By today you could feel this adventure slowly coming to a close, but only cautiously optimistic that the worst was behind us. The power and water stayed on consistently through the previous night, and ended up staying on all day. It was actually my birthday so I decided to go into town and get all those Birthday rewards restaurants and stores send. I thought it would be fun, and I had some errands I wanted to run to get some supplies. Honestly, it turned out to be a bummer of a day. The errand locations didn’t have anything I was looking to pick up, and all the places with rewards were still closed due to the weather and electrical situation. I was quite disappointed by the time I returned home. But my new friends Jeff & Amanda stopped by to surprise me with some cupcakes and a card. It was exactly what I needed at just the right moment. I’m again so thankful I met them. They are great people.

I have to talk about going to Walmart on this day. First of all, I don’t know why I thought they’d be restocked and back to normal by now. My mistake. They were crazy picked over. People were still in that apocalyptic mindset even though we were supposed to be above freezing the next day. At one point, there was an announcement that a shipment of milk had come in. They were requiring everyone who wanted milk to stand in line to get it, and there was a limit of 4 per family (which I was surprised as it seemed like a lot). The frozen pizzas were almost completely obliterated. I got a couple of the last ones. I only stopped by because there was a couple things I wanted, but by no means did I need to go grocery shopping, good thing. The things I wanted were weird. I was going to grab some real parmesan, microwave popcorn, and some random supplies. I couldn’t get hardly anything. Apparently, real parmesan and popcorn are priorities to more people than I thought. You should have seen this milk situation though. Herd mentality is strong. They were lined up along the whole side of the store and getting longer. The milk section itself was completely empty with 1 employee standing at one of the fridge doors being passed single gallons at a time from the back. I can’t really understand why everyone was so anxious to get milk. Especially, 4 gallons per family. That’s so much. Even my family of 7 never bought more than 2 gallons of milk at a time. We would never go through 4 in just a couple days (until weather was to return to normal). I don’t actually remember seeing anyone with 4 gallons, but I’m still shocked that’s what they decided to set the limit at. I still had milk at home, I don’t go through it very fast. Even so, I still felt that urge to join the herd. If they are all so desperate that it has to be tightly controlled, then certainly I should need it to, right? In the end, my logic won out and I waited. That was the correct choice for me. Like I thought, I didn’t run out of milk and picked some up the next time I went out.

The popcorn thing is what I really want to talk about. When I walked into the popcorn aisle, I couldn’t find it for a moment. It took me a second to realized that I couldn’t find it because they were all gone. Literally every single bag of microwave popcorn was picked clean off the shelf. There were still some packages of kernels for machines, and jiffy pop. I still don’t understand this. Microwave popcorn was completely useless during this emergency because we had been without power so the microwaves weren’t working. I was not picking it up in response to the emergency, but because I had run out before and had wanted some. I grabbed the jiffy pop because I could use that when the power was out over the stove or later at a campfire. Now this is what really baffles my mind. That same aisle was split into 3 parts: popcorn, nuts, and beef jerky. THE NUTS AND BEEF JERKY WERE UNTOUCHED!! Seriously, they looked just like they do every normal day of the week. The whole store is picked over, but these two items. Does no one in this area know the staples of survivalist food? There’s a reason trail mix/nuts and jerky are thought of as hiking snacks, because they are go-to for good nutrient, low prep, and shelf stable foods. Seriously, if you think you need to react to an emergency and stock up on food, these should be the first things to go. Now you might be saying, “well, you did the same thing. Bought popcorn and not nuts/jerky.” You’re right, but the only reason I didn’t is because I already have a lot of nuts, trailmix, and jerky in my trailer. Even so, I still thought about whether I should grab some because I know the value of them!

Lesson: Don’t get drawn into the panic frenzy. Know what you have, what you need, and don’t let your emotions get the best of you.

The next day was above freezing, and the snow melted so fast. You couldn’t even tell there had been snow there at all. The way the weather bounced back was about as crazy as how it came in. That weekend I was invited to bonfires, worked outside on my skirt, and was wearing shorts. 4 days later, it was 80 degrees and I was visiting a local park with waterfalls. People were wading in the streams, and I even walked through in my sandals. I’ll post about that later.

I know this was a long post. Thank you for reading. My biggest advice would be to research and prepare for freezing weather ahead of any inclement weather. Once the forecast predicts trouble, it becomes difficult to secure the supplies you need. Having them already in your possession is the first step to outlasting the storm. There are a lot of so-called rules floating around for freezing weather, but remember they’re more like guidelines.

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